County planning and zoning are complex issues that leaders must frequently consider. On Oct. 10-11, the Minnesota Association of County Planning and Zoning Administrators (MACPZA) met to share various topics from their professions. The conference focused on current issues covered by many county planning commissions and boards of adjustment. The MACPZA group meets biannually with this year’s fall conference hosted by Otter Tail County Land and Resource Department at Thumper Pond in Ottertail.
County Commissioner Betty Murphy introduced attendees to the county with a brief history of how Otter Tail County chose its name and a few demographics highlighting the county. Otter Tail County has the most lakes of any county in the country. The fact that the county has so many lakes and thus an estimated 16,000 docks prefaced the first session’s discussion “Dock Regulations and AIS Dock Movement Tracking.”
Otter Tail County is one of only two counties in Minnesota, Crow Wing County being the other, with a dock and riparian use ordinance. In this case, the county, not the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has jurisdiction over docks and lifts on lakes. Chris LeClair, Otter Tail County Land and Resource director, pointed out, “This (ordinance) helps our office take action when necessary.” The ordinance was adopted in 2016 and revised in June of 2018: ‘this ordinance is enacted for the purpose and with the intent to control and regulate the use of docks, moorings, and riparian areas in all of Otter Tail County…” So dock and lifts cannot obstruct waterways or the enjoyment and safety of the lakes for others.
Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons and LeClair mentioned that there have been few disputes regarding the ordinance requirements. However, it was noted that when disagreements about dock placement rise, the county now has authority to require lakeshore owners to follow the rules and move docks or lifts. A 2018 dispute over dock placement is now in court. LeClair and Fitzgibbons reiterated that most property owners work out agreeable solutions. “We work together with content experts and other partners in coming up with plans so that we are part of the solution and are able to determine our role in enforcement,” said Fitzgibbons. “We want to know how ordinances impact all stakeholders.”
Spencer McGrew, aquatic invasive species (AIS) specialist for Otter Tail County, explained the first-of-its-kind dock registration clause to the revised dock and riparian use ordinance. Under Minnesota statues all docks, lifts, etc. must remain dry for 21 days before it can be placed in another body of water. In order to raise awareness to the risk of transporting docks and lifts the county implemented a dock registry program in which dock and lift owners simply call the county and register their dock or lift before it is moved to another body of water.
McGrew also highlighted the AIS boat inspector program. Boat inspectors work at public accesses throughout the county each summer to educate the public to clean, drain and dispose to prevent the spread of AIS. The AIS program also supplies a decontamination station at the Otter Tail Lake access, the 30th busiest access in the state. McGrew told the audience, “We are committed to vigilance and working with the public.”
For more information on the dock and riparian use ordinance please visit the county website at ottertailcountymn.us. To register your dock or lift please call Spencer McGrew at 218-998-8113.